Filmmaker Liz Garbus speaks with her father, First Amendment attorney Martin Garbus as part of the narrative for the film. Garbus takes us through the era of McCarthyism as well as other pivotal times in our nation’s history when the First Amendment was put to the test, using his own personal experiences as well as other historical references to lay out the story. The film also cites various cases from recent years, including Ward Churchill being fired from his job as a professor at the University of Colorado after he wrote in a blog post that the people who died in the World Trade Center were, “a technocratic corps at the very heart of America’s global financial empire” and calling them “Little Eichmanns.”
Another case explored is Debbie Almontaser’s story. She’s a Muslim-American woman forced to resign from her job as Principal of New York City’s first dual-language Arabic/English school after things she said with regards to the word “intifada” were taken out of context by the press. And then there’s Chase Harper, the kid from San Diego who was suspended after showing up at school wearing a t-shirt that included a bible quote and the words, “Homosexuality is Shameful.” The film also includes protesters Ruth Benn and Ed Hedemann, who were arrested along with more than a thousand other protesters assembling in New York City during the 2004 Republican National Convention.
Interesting enough. Especially since it appears that many of the sanctioned “speakers” featured in the movie made statements that would have been offensive to both liberals and conservatives alike. It will be in my Netflix queue. But in the meantime, (shameless plug alert) if you’d like to read some great stories that form the basis for First Amendment law in the U.S., check out the books by my former First Amendment Professor Randy Bezanson, Speech Stores: How Free Can Speech Be? and How Free Can the Press Be?.